by Irvin Muchnick
The Washington Post‘s Amy Brittain is developing a crucial new angle of the back story of Rick Curl’s statutory rapes of his early-teen swimmer Kelley Davies: the decision by the University of Maryland to allow Curl to resign quietly as its head swim coach in 1988 without turning him in to the police.
See “U-Md. didnt tell police that swim coach Rick Curl had abused a teen girl,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/umd-lawyers-didnt-tell-police-that-swim-coach-rick-curl-had-abused-a-teen-girl/2013/05/29/5820f306-c8a4-11e2-9f1a-1a7cdee20287_story.html.
The Post editorial board also has rightly called for a Congressional investigation of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s national sport governing body, USA Swimming.
Last July, in this space, I broke the story of the persistent and widening youth coach sex abuse scandals in swimming in a piece from the Olympic Trials in Omaha, which was commissioned but not published by Yahoo Sports. After I pulled the article from Yahoo’s dithering editors, it found a home on the site of the sports parents’ advocacy group MomsTeam. See “USA Swimming Sex Abuse Scandal Flashback: Muchnicks Pre-Olympics Story Killed by Yahoo Sports, Picked Up by MomsTeam,” October 17, 2012, http://concussioninc.net/?p=6182.
But I also followed that story with a second piece for MomsTeam, and a second analysis exclusively for Concussion Inc., on the role of college programs in the silent carousel of abusive coaches from program to program and region to region. The full texts of both articles are below.
Rick Curl Sex Abuse Case Raises New Concerns
For those wondering if the problem of sex abuse in our national youth competitive swimming program is truly worse than Penn State — and if so, why — I say look no further than the Rick Curl case.
Last week USA Swimming announced a “provisional suspension” of Curl, one of the country’s most prominent age-group club swimming coaches, former national team coach, and founder of the Washington, D.C., area’s 950-athlete-strong Curl-Burke Club, which moved swiftly after accepting his resignation to rebrand itself as CUBU. USA Swimming postponed until next month an emergency hearing on information that Curl had molested swimmer Kelley Davies (now Currin), starting in 1983 when she was 13, and later paid the Davies family $150,000 in a “non-disclosure agreement.”
The evidence to date suggests that Curl was able to stay in coaching simply by changing jobs, and, for a four-year period, leaving the country to coach abroad. In a 2010 deposition in a lawsuit against USA Swimming involving abuses by another coach, Brian Hindson (now in prison on child pornography charges), executive director Chuck Wielgus was asked if he knew why Curl had been fired from his job as coach at the University of Maryland, which ended without explanation in 1988 after a single season. Wielgus responded, “I never even knew he worked at the University of Maryland.”
However implausible is that assertion, even less credible is Wielgus’s claim that he had no information on why Curl left the country for four years in the last decade to work with Australia’s renowned Carlisle club.
Also ripe for investigation are other instances of Penn State-like abdication of responsibility by colleges and universities for abuse by coaches of age-group swimming programs, which in many instances share not only pools and locker rooms but also staffs. For instance, Andy King, the California and Washington State coach who was called “a monster” by the prosecutor who finally put him away for 40 years, did many of his dirty deeds out of the facilities of Chabot College in Hayward, California, where he was involved with both the school swim team and a USA Swimming youth club that called the pool home. John Trites, who made the FBI’s most wanted list for his clandestine locker room videos of nude female swimmers (and remains at large 14 years later), coached both an age-group club and the Franklin & Marshall College team in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
In April 2012 , Charles Arabas, a coach on the USA Swimming banned list, was released from an Arizona prison after serving nearly a decade on seven sex abuse counts. His parole supervision is scheduled to expire in October.
As a result of the investigative reporting of Sarah St. John while serving an editor of the campus newspaper at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri ( for which she won the Missouri Student Journalist of the Year award), we know that the Truman State administration appears to at least been on notice of alleged abuse by Arabas while serving as coach for the women’s swimming and diving team there in the early 1990’s.
Like Curl, Arabas left Truman State (then known as Northeast Missouri State) under mysterious circumstances. The university’s extensive personnel file on Arabas showed that three female divers alleged that he had intimidated them into submitting to massage sessions in which he touched their breasts and genitals. An internal human resources investigation determined that Arabas “has been seriously at fault,” and Jack Magruder, the vice president for academic affairs — later university president — put Arabas on probation.
But under legal threats from Arabas, the university agreed to hold his appeal of the allegations in “abeyance” and to tell prospective future employers, in part that: “… Chuck already had paid a price for the allegations and that he has been sensitized to the power of sexual harassment complaints. Therefore, it is believed he will hereafter avoid any ambiguous behavior in which his motives can be questioned.”
It is difficult to understand, given what we know about Arabas, how the university could possibly have believed that Arabas had learned his lesson. In fact, it appears that the lesson he learned was, unfortunately, that he was free to go on abusing young swimmers with the knowledge that allegations of prior abuse were not likely to resurface.
And, of course, Arabas, like most pedophiles, didn’t stop. His next employer was Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where he became the long-distance coach on the swim team staff. He would subsequently add to his resume a coaching position with the USA Swimming affiliate Northern Arizona Swimming Association, as well as management of the local Wall Aquatic Center.
It was not until 2002 that the law caught up with Arabas when he was put on administrative leave after being indicted on 14 counts of sexual abuse and seven of sexual conduct with a minor, involving seven girls ages 15 to 18, over the previous five years.
And it gets worse: In 2004, Northern Arizona and the Arizona Board of Regents paid $50,000 each to three of Arabas’s victims in sealed settlements of their civil lawsuits.
It is perhaps understandable that the breaking news about the full extent of the sex abuse scandal in swimming has taken a back seat to the Olympic coverage of the swimming exploits of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, and Dana Vollmer. But a day of reckoning is at hand. Just as it is not sufficient in the Penn State scandal to punish just Jerry Sandusky, but to hold accountable the university’s administrators who appear to have turned a blind eye to his abuse so as to allow it to continue, so too must we bring to justice those who appear to have conspired to put and keep our daughter athletes in harm’s way where they could be preyed upon by predatory coaches.
Sex Abuse Revolving Door: Rick Curl Case Shows College Programs Share Responsibility for USA Swimming Cover-Ups
MomsTEAM.com has just published my follow-up article on the USA Swimming youth coach sex abuse scandal. Some additional thoughts on where this story is headed:
In 1994 the American Swimming Coaches Association named Rick Curl its coach of the year 11 years after we now know (and know that much of the swimming community knew) that he had begun raping then 13-year-old Kelley Davies. The symbiosis between ASCA and USA Swimming is itself a fruitful line of inquiry. But lets focus for now on Curls tenure at the University of Maryland, which ended without explanation in 1988 after a single season.
Those of us digging deep into the sordid history of the swim worlds enabling of coach statutory rape and molestation know that one of the next frontiers in this investigation is the evidence of the Penn State-like abdication of responsibility by many collegiate sports programs. Perhaps the most despicable aspect of institutional cover-ups is the way they have normalized sickening behavior. Jerry Sandusky groomed at-risk boys who became hangers-on at Penn State football facilities and road trips. But unaccountable swimming coaches have targeted their own athletes, who were by and large girls from two-parent homes.
My MomsTEAM piece also reveals how pervert coach Charles Arabas was able to glide seamlessly from Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State) to Northern Arizona University (and its associated age-group club swimming program). While allowing Arabas to walk away from his Missouri job without a blemish on his record, the administrator who later would become university president allowed this note to be added to Arabass future job applications: Chuck already had paid a price for the allegations and he has been sensitized to the power of sexual harassment complaints. Therefore, it is believed he will hereafter avoid any ambiguous behavior in which his motives can be questioned.
It is mind-boggling to try to fathom the study of pedophile recidivism on which such a representation could have been based.